Initial Writing: November 16, 2013
Almost exactly one week ago today, I was trying to calm my nerves as the first round of fireworks went off signaling the start of the 2013 runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This was my first half marathon, and the first time I had actually completed 13.1 miles in one session. It also marked one of those things I would call “life milestones,” the bucket-list style items that you always wonder if you’ll ever do. I’m happy to say that I completed the half marathon, and picked up a nice shiny medal for my troubles. And that is where the sub-title of this recap comes in.
Prior to the race, I heard more than a few people say “so what, it’s just a race” or “you can buy a medal off of eBay”. Even now having completed the race, I still have people giving me the “so what” look when they see the medal or hear me talking about it. Truth be told, at face value, it’s just a medal, a piece of cheaply reproduced etched metal with a ribbon around it, and (C) Disney / Made in China on the back. Fortunately for me, it’s the symbolism of the medal that I won’t forget anytime soon. It represents nearly a year of hard work and training, doing something that I still don’t completely enjoy (running), and something that a few years back I would have never thought possible. If you’ve read my other blog posts, or known me for any length of time, growing up I wasn’t exactly athlete material – and still probably not. Treadmill? Avoided it. Exercising regularly? Nope. Eating healthy? Negative. Worried about the future? Probably not as much as now. Married, and especially with children that depend on me, keeping myself healthy and active to try to stave off the effects of aging has more importance. Plus, ever since I started running, I feel better, more energetic, more alive. Ok, enough of the backstory – here’s the recap!
Hilari and I left early Friday morning (11/8) for the Philly airport, after taking my daughter to the bus for school, and dropping my son off at
the babysitters my parents’. This would be a kid-free trip to the place with tons of kids. Right. Made it to the airport with plenty of time, and had a relatively uneventful flight down, sitting by ourselves in the exit row. I was able to stretch my legs out, and enjoy a bit of relaxation before we arrived in Orlando. It’s a mini-vacation, so why would I need to relax on the way down? Oh yeah, that whole marathon thing!
We packed all our stuff in carry-on luggage to avoid waiting for baggage claim. A quick stop at the Magical Express counter, and we were in line for the ME bus. Side note – the Magic Bands worked wonderfully, already having our ME reservation ready to go, and saving me for having to shuffle papers around. Kudos Disney on this part of your “beta test”. Anyway, once on the bus, we talked with some other half marathon participants, and enjoyed the front seat on the bus with a pretty nice view of the road, and the opportunity for me to get a picture of the entryway to Disney World.
After arriving at Port Orleans French Quarter and receiving our Mardi Gras beads, we got through a pretty smooth check-in and headed to our rooms. Another Magic Band moment to unlock the door, and we did a short examination of the room. Pretty standard double-bed room, although it is starting to show its age. After dropping our stuff off, we headed back to the main area to catch the runDisney bus to the Expo at Disney’s Wide World of Sports (another place I hadn’t yet been to, despite nearly 20 trips to WDW in my life). I should mention that we picked this resort due to its small size, anticipating hobbling back to the room in the wee hours of the morning after the half was over.
As the bus pulled into WWoS, I could already see runDisney flags and signs all over the place. It was almost like a transformation of sorts into running-central for the weekend. From what I read before, this is to be expected. We headed over to the HP Field House, where a short line greeted me before I got my race bib and information packet. Hilari and I took a few pictures in front of the large Wine & Dine glasses, then checked out the small merchandise area, where there were no more “I DID IT” shirts there. The girl working the area mentioned to check at the expo next door… so over to the expo we went.
The expo, held in the Jostens Center next door, was the place to be. A lot of people movingaround, going from vendor to vendor. Probably around 50 exhibitors, selling anything from apparel, to hydration belts, new footwear, the “must have running gadget of the month” to a booth showing off all the new runDisney medals. (Note to self – I must run more races next year!) After looking through the area, and picking up two blue blinking armbands for tomorrow’s race, I headed to the runDisney booth to try and get a shirt. Of course, no more XL’s left… my next try was a custom made one right near the exit of the Jostens Center. However, yet more disappointment as it will take 30-45 minutes for the shirt to be made, and they won’t ship it back to the resort. Just as I was about to give up on the “I DID IT” shirt, one of the runDisney Cast Members mentioned that they will be making the shirts tomorrow night after the race in Epcot. My wife kindly obliged in procuring one of those for me, while I attempted to complete the 13.1 miles.
After quickly heading back to the resort, we hopped on the regular Disney bus to the Magic Kingdom, where we got there with some time to spare before a 6:10pm dinner reservation at Tony’s Town Square. We decided to give this restaurant a shot after reading a bunch of reviews. I wanted a straightforward pasta dinner, and Tony’s did not disappoint. I managed to devour a plate of spaghetti with Italian sausage, while my wife opted for the pumpkin ravioli. Add in a warm plate of cheese bread and some fresh baked rolls, and we were stuffed. The only blemish on the dinner was rather slow wait service, which given the fact that the restaurant was packed, wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but the staff seemed overworked. Now with dinner behind us, the real event of the evening began: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!
It was definitely a bit of a shock to see all the Christmas decorations, the Castle lit up in icy white lights, and snow falling on Main Street USA… all this given that last week, we had pumpkins up and Halloween was in full force. But true to Disney form, one magical night and the transformation from fall to winter happened. The wife and I didn’t spend too much time at the party, but we did manage trips on Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, with a stop at Tortuga Tavern for hot cocoa and cookies in between. After BTMM, we decided to stop along Frontierland and watch the parade. After a post-parade ride on Haunted Mansion, we continued on to find a spot for Holiday Wishes. Aside from Hallowishes during the Halloween party, this fireworks show ranked right up there as one of my favorites. The 180 degree fireworks included with these special holiday shows really sets the mood, and makes these worth the wait. By this point, it was nearly 10pm, so we did one final ride, the new Little Mermaid ride in Fantasyland. Something about the simplicity of this ride (much like a modernized Small World) makes it enjoyable and brings out the kid in me. With the looming half marathon tomorrow night, we headed back down Main Street one last time, with the infamous Emporium stop to cap it all off. I was also happy to get the new Holiday-edition Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom card with Donald’s three cousins having a snowball fight. Disney even included the 2012 holiday cards as well, so I came away with an unexpected bonus.
We got back to POFQ uneventfully, grabbed a quick snack at the food court, then retired for the night. Our goal was to wake up, hit Hollywood Studios, potentially a little bit of Epcot, then actually do something we always say we’ll do but never accomplish – mid-day resting.
Saturday morning, we woke up, got ready, had a nice breakfast at the POFQ Food Court (eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuit, waffle) and some unfortunately horrible tasting coffee. Now that WDW has contracts with Starbucks, they need to continue that rollout and get their coffee at the resorts. Seriously, the coffee was THAT BAD. After finishing breakfast, we hopped on the bus for the Studios. Crowds didn’t seem too bad when we arrived, and we made our way to Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, and the Rock’n’Roller Coaster as I had booked FastPass+ ahead of time. We also spent some time just wandering around the park, grabbed a drink, did some shopping, and hopped on Star Tours for good measure. By that point it was a little after noon, so we decided to head over to Epcot before heading back to the hotel. Instead of a bus, we took the ferry, which was a nice change of pace. I can’t honestly state how nice it was not to have to lug strollers around or chase kids around – at the same time, I missed having the kids with us.
Over the years of Disney visits, I’ve learned what the “crowd barometers” are – those rides or attractions that help you gauge the crowd level based on the wait time. Spaceship Earth is one of those attractions. If there’s more than a short line for this ride, you know that the day’s crowds will be heavier. We only had about a 5 minute way for this ride, but the fact that it wasn’t a quick walk-on meant the crowds were going to be more than light that day. And we were right! We walked around World Showcase on our way in, looking at all the food vendors for the Food and Wine Festival, but I purposely avoided trying anything new. For a late lunch, we stopped by the Land and rode one of the rides that I think is a lost treasure in Epcot – Living with the Land. The boat ride itself is pretty simplistic, but I’ve come to really enjoy seeing the new plants and interesting biological things they’re doing in the terrarium part of the attraction. In that same building is a pretty spacious food court with above-average offerings when it comes to park food. A turkey ciabatta sandwich with some potato salad rounded out my lunch. A quick trip to MouseGear to see what new (and expensive) gifts could be had, and we were on our way back to the resort for some much needed rest – at 2:30pm.
Prior to the “much needed rest,” I had to stop by the food court (again) for a quick snack. Probably not the best thing to eat pre-race, but those beignets were amazing. Nothing like eating powdered sugar-covered fried dough, and then laying down and trying to sleep. My wife managed to completely pass out for about 2 hours… I, on the other hand, ended up staring at the ceiling for an hour or so, chatting online, and then finally just going down to the food court for a bowl of chicken soup. I seriously couldn’t sleep, and I could feel the anxiety building. Right around 6pm, I jumped in a hot shower to loosen up my muscles, then got dressed for the evening race. I made sure to address any potential chafing issues with liberal use of Vaseline, got my race fuel ready, make sure my camera was charged, took some pre-race pictures with my wife, kissed her goodbye, then headed down to the bus around 7pm. Amazingly, there was no waiting (as I had read about in previous reviews) and I hoped right on to a bus full of runners headed to ESPN Wide World of Sports!
The ride over was pretty much an uneventful trip, with a lot of conversations about the impending race, what worked, what didn’t work, strategies, and just general anxiousness. I must say at this point I started realizing what the whole costuming craze was all about. Some of these people took decorating themselves to an extreme – can’t wait to see how they run in those things. Anyway, when we arrived at WWoS, I basically just followed the long pack of runners over to the staging area, and what a site it was. I swear there had to be at least 300-400 port-o-potties lining the area, with a stage in the middle, and a dividing line between the general waiting area and the “runner’s only” area. They had a DJ with music blaring, some runner stories (why they are running, first time running, etc.) and contests, but I tended to stay towards the middle of the fields where there was more room to move around. Nerves were definitely starting to get to me, so I wanted to stay loose and not tense up.
Large, lighted balloons with a black letter on them designed the corral entry areas. I would be heading eventually to Corral G, but seeing as it was around 7:45pm, and we didn’t have to be in the corrals until 9:15pm, I jumped in line for a photo with Chip and Dale. We had options of Chip and Dale, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. It took almost 30 minutes waiting for the chipmunk picture, but given the shirt I was wearing, I wanted this picture regardless.
After successfully getting the picture, I managed to visit the port-a-potties with a minimal wait, grabbed a quick drink, and had a pack of SportBeans. By this point, it was close to 9pm, and I realized that I missed the #Team runDisney meet-up that was happened near the runner’s information tent. I did catch up with Jim D. (@JimGarth) who was luckily wearing a blue #TrD shirt. We chatted for a bit, and by that time, it was off to the corrals. When we got into Corral G, literally it was in the parking lots, so we did what everyone else did – sat down on the asphalt and relaxed for another 45 minutes. We met up with Brandi (@Brandi1369) and Jen (@TRVLGRL25) and tried not to get too wound up. It was at this point that they all realized I was “scannable” – my shirt had a huge QR code on the back that linked to this blog. Something to relax the tensions, at least I hope it did. The company of people I at least knew from online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made the whole “I’m doing this solo” infinitely more bearable until the race got going. Once I start running, I prefer to run alone for most of the trek… that’s just me… solitude in my mind.
And then the moment hit – Corral A got the fireworks send off and the 2013 runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon was underway (technically, the wheelchair racers got to go first – can’t imagine doing that, but I have all the respect in the world for them). This year, runDisney adjusted the corral setup, adding more corrals with less runners and sending them off in shorter periods of time… the initial corrals were sent off every 2 minutes, then it changed to 3 minutes then 4, etc. The last corral, L, got sent off at 10:40pm. But enough of that, as each corral got its send-off with fireworks, everyone else continued moving up, until it was finally Corral G’s turn. Mickey and Minnie were standing on a stage near the start line, bubbles were flying in the air, the music was blasting, we got the final countdown, the fireworks went off and so did we… this was it… almost a full year of training for 13.1 miles!
The race started out leaving the WWoS complex and making a left onto Osceola Parkway, on our initial ~3 mile trek towards Animal Kingdom. We weren’t even out a mile and the Country Bear Jamboree was set up for pictures. I didn’t bother stopping for this one, and quite honestly, looking back at the whole race, didn’t really stop for many pictures unless the line was short. I may change that philosophy next time and just enjoy the race more. But with the way my nerves were for this first one, and the fact that I still had my doubts about running the distance (first time I ever ran this distance in one shot), I passed up these opportunities and kept going. I recall seeing some flamingo and hippopotamus characters from one of the Disney films that I can’t remember, but again, not worth stopping. runDisney kept things interesting with portable DJs all over the place (look for the souped-up SUV with LED running lights blasting music). Around mile 1.5 was the first water/PowerAde stop. This was the place I started making some mistakes, in that I never drank PowerAde on runs before, but given the higher humidity, I opted for some water and sports drink at each stop.
As we passed Mile 3, the course took us into Animal Kingdom, past some interesting looking lighted tusks. My one clear memory of this part of the race was seeing the line of runners coming OUT the other side of the park, approaching the Mile 7 point. It was just weird to see this long line of people running, walking, etc. wrapping around like some version of a Disney Peoplemover. It was around this time that I started getting pain in my right foot. I purposely opted to wear a knee brace to combat the patellar tendinitis issues I’d had recently, but this time my foot was sliding in my sneaker more than I wanted, causing my toes to get sore. I was hoping this didn’t turn into a “rest of the race” thing, but I kept going.
I need to stop here and state that my original goal was to settle into some type of run/walk ratio, mostly by feel as I have for other shorter races. I did get frustrated many times by runners who, as soon as their interval timer beeped, decided to abruptly stop running wherever they were. Luckily, I didn’t run anyone over or hurt myself. Note to those people: MOVE OVER when the timer beeps. You can run for a few more seconds. It’s not going to kill you, or ruin your ratios. Ditto for the people who insisted on jogging together 3-4 people wide. I understand you’re there with friends and want to have a good time, but making a lane-wide row of people going slower than other traffic is not only frustrating, but downright dangerous. I can recall at least two instances where someone in said line decided to “drop back” and slammed right into me. (Ok, off the soapbox.)
Going through Animal Kingdom at night was really neat… seeing the Tree of Life all lit up… seeing Everest with the glow of the moon on it. I really wish I had taken more pictures during this part, but I was focused on keeping my pace up, and the pain in my foot was steadily increasing. I remember seeing photo ops with King Louie, Pluto, Rafiki, and Timon. I think I remember seeing Russell from Disney’s UP in there somewhere too. There may have been others, but with the uneven pavement and some narrow spots during this portion of the race, it wasn’t worth my personal safety trying to sight-see more than focus on running. Around the backside of the park, as we came out of the “imagineered” portion, a large pirate ship with Capt. Jack Sparrow and Barbosa waited for anyone who wanted to stop. Again, I passed up the opportunity and kept moving.
The next essentially 4 miles carried us through Animal Kingdom’s large parking lot, back onto the Parkway and on our way to Hollywood Studios. Along the way was a photo-op with Lilo and Stitch, which I again passed up, due to a combination of foot pain, exhaustion, and a long line. Right after Mile 8 was the GU stop, and I made a huge error here and downed a packet of chocolate GU. It tasted good by this point, almost like liquid chocolate (which it pretty much was), but I think I overdid it on the electrolytes and really messed up my system. Between that, and the continually nagging foot pain, I was started to get physically and mentally exhausted. We rounded a corner to head into the Studios, when we came by two large busses that said “PARADE BUS” on the side. These were the dreaded sweeper buses, and although I was well ahead of any potential for being swept (by like almost an hour and a half), the sight was ominous and I heard more than a few choice words directed at the buses. Thankfully, people said nice things to the volunteers both civil and police working to keep us safe that night. As we headed up the hill to the Studios entrance, I saw the Green Army Guy from Toy Story, and had to get a picture (helped that the line was short).
The course then took us through a back entrance into Hollywood Studios right behind the Tower of Terror. I must admit the “behinds the scenes” stuff gave me a boost of energy, and I actually ran most of the way through the park, stopping for a quick bathroom break on Sunset Boulevard (an out of the way bathroom that was clean and empty).
Rounding onto the main plaza, the Sorcerer Mickey Hat had a big stage underneath blasting more music, and then we headed down through Pixar Place, to yet another photo op, this time with Buzz and Woody. We then ran through the Backlot area, both the themed areas and some of the employee areas, including a particularly interesting run through the costuming tunnel, decked out to look like a disco party. I skipped a picture with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, but stopped and got a photo with Wreck-It Ralph (harkening back to my early days as an avid video game player). Coming out of the backlot area, we rounded another corner, and then got to run through the Osborne Lights. I wasn’t prepared for that sight during the marathon, even though I had seen these many times before. Gotta admit a little emotional running through here, and got my photo taken for good measure.
Coming out of the lights, I could hear the Star Wars theme song playing, and that led to another skipped photo op with Darth Vader and Boba Fett (and a really REALLY long line). We then went through another behind-the-scenes area that I can only recall as having a horrible garbage smell, but the Indiana Jones theme song blasting kept us going. We headed out of the Studios and on the run across the Yacht & Beach Club areas towards Epcot and the finish. Lots of spectators lining the course for this part, with a bunch of awesome signs. An older lady in a wheelchair handing out Starburst and cheering us on (someone I later discovered frequents these races to support people she doesn’t know – awesome lady all around). The signs and cheering were definitely big pick-me-ups for this point of the race. Almost 3 hours in, it was a struggle for these last 2 miles. I looked at my GPS, and really tried to push to beat a 3 hour time, but my foot was full-on throbbing at this point, my body hurt, and I just wanted to finish.
They had us come into Epcot right behind the Imagination pavilion, and I remember another un-themed area, but then coming out into the main concourse behind Spaceship Earth. This area was packed with people, spectators and other runners who had already finished. Unfortunately, we had to cross over from one side to the other, and since we were running the marathon, park officials kept the area clear. If you were a spectator (or finisher), you ended up experiencing the Crosswalk of Doom (more on that later). After we rounded Spaceship Earth, we headed out of the park into the last quarter mile. There was a long section with fog and laser lights, and I knew at that point I was almost done. I turned the corner, saw the finish line, and had to hold back emotions.
I actually walked a bit through the fog, but when I turned the corner, I mustered up as much energy as I had an powered on the last .1 miles and ran across the finish line with my fists held high. I completely ran right past Mickey Mouse, but I didn’t care. I was a finisher. I did it. 13.1 miles complete! After crossing, I grabbed one of the railings and knelt down to catch my breath. A bunch of volunteers were there ready to catch people who could barely stand (or who I later found out got sick). The best part of the night, and of the weekend, was receiving the finisher medal. It was more than just a medal. It was an accomplishment. The coup de grace of almost a year of training, some injuries, frustrations, and everything in between. Now it was done, and it was time to relax and unwind (and get out of the shoes to figure out how bad my feet really were).
After standing back up, and convincing one of the medical volunteers that I wasn’t about to vomit or collase… or both… I got the medal placed around my neck, picked up another bottle of PowerAde (this time fruit punch) and a small runDisney snack box that I later realized I should have eaten as soon as possible. Next up was the finisher pictures. I actually got my picture taken twice as I accidentally got into the wrong line for what I thought was a bag check line. Went over to bag check, and aside from being a little unsteady on my feet, was able to receive my bag in less than a minute. Kudos to Disney for a great job organizing that part. Then it was on to the changing tents, which also were pretty well organized. I found a corner of the tent, sat down, and got those shoes and socks off my feet. You could tell from the groans around the room that everyone was exhausted, but there was something about seeing guys of all ages high-five’ing each other, and offerings congratulations all around. I got myself changed, toweled off (Wet Wipes came in real handy for getting all the salty sweat off), and made my way out of the runner’s area.
There was a long line over to the entrance of Epcot, and I was supposed to meet my wife near the big ball. She texted to tell me she’d be waiting by the Starbucks, but by that time I was probably 30 minutes later than I planned. As we walked over to the park entrance, a long line of people bent over trashcans made it evident that the stomach discomfort and nausea I was feeling wasn’t unique. I later found out that a LOT of people had issues, some worse than others. Thankfully, I wasn’t relegated to a concrete bench and a trashcan. I did manage to eat some of the items in that food box – a small fruit and nut bar, and some tortilla chips along with a bottle of water. runDisney offered an option of a glass of wine or beer after the race, but given the GI issues I was having, I opted for a Sprite instead.
Made it into the park without issue, and then encountered what would be the next major obstacle of the night – the dreaded crosswalk of doom. Runners coming through the park had to cross over the main concourse behind Spaceship Earth. runDisney workers made two paths, that they would shift oncoming runners into, switching back and forth every few minutes, and gradually moving the crowds from one side, to the middle section, and finally to the other. Unfortunately, it was not well managed, and resulted in an almost 30 minute ordeal, being stuffed like sardines shoulder to shoulder with people until we got across. I get it that the runners should have the priority, but really, with all the money available, they couldn’t put up a temporary bridge, or do something else???
Finally got across the area, and met up with Hilari back by Test Track. We opted against any rides, as she was very cold, and I was sore and not feeling great. We headed back towards World Showcase (keeping in mind it was already nearly 3am). I got my medal engraved with my finishing time (3:03) for $20, and contemplated buying a finisher plaque, although wasn’t really in the mood to do much shopping. Given all the food and wine options, I would have loved to sample some new items, but with my stomach not feeling well, we ended up getting chicken nuggets and fries, finding a bench, and sitting down. I actually took my sneakers off and just rested for a bit. A couple of other runners were with us, and we all commiserated on feeling much more lousy than expected. After we finished eating (and by eating – I literally ate a few nuggets and not many fries – very unusual for me), we headed back to the front of the park, and ultimately back to the bus, which at this point was almost 4am.
When we got back to POFQ, a hot shower awaited me, we both did the requisite Facebook/Twitter posts, and off to bed at 4:30am, for a later morning return trip to the airport. Unfortunately, I was wide awake at 7:30am, less than 3 hours sleep, and surprisingly energized. While Hilari slept a little longer, I got another shower, got dressed, put my hard-earned medal on, and
walked limped around the resort. I brought back breakfast for both of us, and we ate in our room, with my last attempt at sucking down the horrendous resort coffee. Then it was finishing up the bag packing, checking out, getting some last minute souvenirs at the resort gift shop, and off to the Magical Express bus.
The airport security lines weren’t too bad, and we were quickly by our gate with a bunch of time to spare. We sat down and had a decent lunch, and then got ready for the flight home. The airline offered free checking of carry-on bags, and since we had a later boarding zone, we opted for the service just to make it easier all around. Only strange part was more frequent than random searches by TSA officers prior to boarding. Nonetheless, we had an uneventful ride home. Only part left was the 1.5 hour drive from the Philly Airport to come see our kids and sleep in our own bed.
When I look back at this weekend, and the long almost year-long road that led to it, the results were more than I expected. I really was hoping to finish in under 3 hours, but given the foot issues, I won’t complain. As many people told me, I finished, and ultimately PR’ed this race. For the next half that I ran, and there WILL be a next one, I’ll have a bar set to try and beat. In fact, my next half will be the 2014 runDisney Princess Half Marathon in February. That’s an early morning race, which should give me the other extreme from the late night races.
I started out this recap with a tagline of “more than just a medal,” and as I periodically look at the medal, it solidifies that tagline. If all I wanted was a medal, I could have bought one off of eBay or somewhere else. It would have been the same medal I have in my possession today, albeit without the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the one I earned. People sometimes ask me why I bother running, or working out, or doing any of the other things I’ve done. I do them because it gives me a feeling of accomplishment, of climbing another mountain that months prior may have looked insurmountable. It’s that continuing drive to better myself. Running isn’t just a physical sport – there is a strong mental component. This half marathon reinforced that point. The medal at the end is a symbol of that commitment, of the perseverance, and of course the craziness that is running 13.1 magical miles!